My testimony begins like so many others. I grew up in a Christian environment and was exposed
to the truth of the Gospel. Early on I had a good grasp of the facts of the Gospel—I knew that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, had died on a cross for us, was resurrected and promised to return. But like so many people, young and old, I did not understand how that truth was relevant to my daily life. “What difference does all this Christianity stuff make to normal, everyday living?” If anyone ever answered that question for me, I missed it.
Being raised with some exposure to church, and being a part of a family with solid biblical values, I knew right from wrong. But as I made my way through high school, the faith began to seem less and less relevant and as a result, my entire value system began to unravel. I either didn’t understand or didn’t believe that total satisfaction, completion, and fulfillment come only through a relationship with God. Since I didn’t realize that such a real and fulfilling relationship with God was available, I began to look for pleasure, completion and confidence elsewhere.
When I was 15 years old, I began experimenting with drugs, beginning with alcohol. I loved the feeling that the drugs brought about, but the high I really enjoyed was all the attention I got because of my behavior. I redefined myself—I went from “goody two shoes” to “party animal” almost overnight. I wanted to be somebody, and I gave myself to being the wildest and craziest I could be. Nothing gave me real satisfaction, and my character began to be marked by frustration and anger. After I got bored with alcohol I began smoking marijuana and very soon I was snorting crystal methamphetamine. Who knows what would have come next, but in the fall of my junior year of high school, at 16 years of age, my life changed dramatically.
One Friday night, like so many other weekend nights, I was at a party. I was angry, restless and drunk. A buddy and I set off to play a prank, but what began as a “prank” snowballed into over one million dollar’s worth of destruction and vandalism. We were arrested a couple of days later and sent to the Juvenile Detention Center. My family, friends and loved ones were all shocked and heartbroken. It was at this lowest point in my life, just a kid alone and scared, that I cried out to the Lord—really cried out to Him. I had already been speaking to Him a lot—begging for “mercy,” making promises and trying to convince myself that I would get away with this and no one would ever know.
During these longest 48 hours of my life, totally alone in JDC, I cried out to God with more than purely selfish motives. I began to realize how much I had hurt everyone; I couldn’t forget, for example, the sound of my mother’s wailing in the next room as I had signed my confession and the handcuffs were placed on my wrists. Not only that, I began to realize that God was real and present with me! Something was born in me then that God has been developing ever since. I had for so long wanted to be something in everyone else’s eyes and had been so concerned with people’s opinion of me, but God began the work of setting me free of that. He began to show me that I’d always been something in His eyes. To sum it up, through the grace of God, my focus began to turn from myself and toward the living God. After those 48 hours, I was released to my home to remain under the watch of my parents until trial (something my lawyer had said was less likely than getting struck by lightning). After three intense months I did go to trial, however, where I was sentenced to a minimum length of stay of one year in the Texas Youth Commission (TYC).
It would be impossible to list all the miracles that occurred during this time or to name all the people God used to minister to my family and me. Before going to trial and then TYC, my parents literally forced the Word of God into me. It was an extremely painful time and the change came about little by little. Also during this three month period between crime and punishment, a little church invited my hurting family to visit. They welcomed us, broken and confused as we were. They showed me the love of Jesus in such a real, honest and tangible way and demonstrated unconditional love and acceptance. It was in that church family that I gave my life fully to the Lord and it was there that I heard His call to the ministry. That church body prayed faithfully for me during that transition time, and all the way through my year of incarceration.
At the TYC Center the Lord continued to show Himself faithful, protecting me and giving me favor. He consistently placed the right people in my path. One example of God’s faithfulness is the prayer time He allowed me to have. I was incarcerated on a dorm with 24 other young men with absolutely no privacy because the building was designed for everything—bunks, bathrooms and free area—to be in the open. The only enclosed room was the group room where we met with our case-worker each day. I spent the hour each morning between waking up and going to breakfast in that loud building studying the Word and praying.
After a few months, a correctional officer made the rule that I could go into the group room alone each morning for an hour of prayer and study! This time with God changed my life. Another example of God’s favor is that He allowed me to begin taking classes at Howard Payne University “BEFORE” being released from TYC! Two months before my scheduled release, TYC began transporting me four hours a day, three days a week to the HPU campus where I took nine university credit hours. I was transported to and from the HPU campus in the TYC prison van, wearing my orange TYC uniform, but for twelve hours a week I was in the free world beginning my education. I graduated from Howard Payne University three years later with a Bachelor’s degree in Christian Studies. What should have cost me a year of my life actually set me ahead a year in my education. God is so amazing!
That year was tough. I was separated from everyone and everything I knew and I was extremely lonely. But during that time the Lord and I developed a relationship that only someone who spends time alone can understand. He comforted me and taught me to rest in Him and to be fulfilled in Him. His became the favor and opinion I sought, and I began to define myself as a child of God. He gave me so many opportunities and sent so many people my way, but the number one thing I learned in TYC was how to trust God. All this happened little by little, a day at a time. Meanwhile, there were countless people investing time in prayer for me and writing letters of encouragement. God’s people showed me Jesus Christ in real, tangible ways.
When I returned home, that little church I mentioned earlier welcomed me with open arms. I now pastor that church—the same love and compassion is here and I feel like the most blessed man in the world for being a part of what God is doing in this part of His kingdom. God has given me a wonderful wife and too much to be thankful for to even begin to write. But I can look back to those dark days and remember that there was a time when things seemed so bleak and ruined and hopeless. But God has taken a terrible thing and brought glory from it. He is so good at that! He will do it for you. Looking back several years later, it is much easier to see God’s hand moving than it was when we were in the midst of the ordeal. That’s where faith comes in. I shudder at what could have happened if God had not been acknowledged in my life and in this situation. Where would I be now?
Maybe you are in a struggle or you’ve just come through one. Or maybe there are storm clouds on the horizon and trouble around the next bend. Whatever the case, remember that God is bigger than your mistakes and His love is stronger than your sin and mine. He is able to take your biggest mistake and use it to bring good to your life and glory to Him. There is hope, no matter where you are now. Your personal relationship with God is eternally important, but we were never meant to live this Christian life on our own. Let God’s imperfect people love you and pray for you and walk through life with you. You have a future. Give this day to God and see what He will do!